Sagging eyelids and a wallet swelling with baby pictures are de riguer for new fathers, but the birth of Jim Rule's first child carried a special bonus: the gift of song.
"Casey was born in 1989, and that's when the songs started coming," recalled Rule, a Lake Forest kindergarten teacher who is building a career as a children's singer-songwriter. Last fall, Rule's first recording, "Share This World," received a Gold Seal award for excellence in a recording for children ages 5 to 9 from the Parents Choice Foundation, a nonprofit group that seeks out the best in children's media.
The award earned the 40-year-old newcomer a spot alongside such well-known Parents Choice award-winners as Joanie Bartels, Linda Arnold, Garrison Keillor and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
The award gave a significant boost to his career, Rule said. His tape, currently available only at his shows and through a handful of local retailers (including Borders Books and Music and Reading Rhinoceros, both in Mission Viejo), has been selling so well that he's looking at wider distribution possibilities, including a deal with Wal-Mart.
Several of his tunes are regularly played on Radio AAHS (830 AM), including "A Family Is What You Make It" and "Underwear," which takes clever jabs at government arts grants, causing Rule to joke that it would make a good theme song for Rush Limbaugh. (The song includes a researcher explaining how her study of the comic impact on kids of the word "underwear" was funded by N.E.E.N.E.R.--the National Endowment for Endless, Needless, Everlasting Research.)
Demand for his concerts has risen too, Rule said. He'll be performing Saturday morning at Borders Books and Music, March 18 at the One On the Way store in La Habra and March 23 at Westminster Mall.
According to Diana Huss Green, a spokeswoman for the Boston-based Parents Choice Foundation, judges selected Rule's tape because it demonstrated "lively imagination, confident style . . . and strong vocals." The fact that "Share" is Rule's first recording was inconsequential to the judges, Green said.
"When it's there, it's there," she said. "When you find something like this, you really do feel like you've discovered a gem."
A former piano tuner and musical theater performer, Rule toured for two years with the international singing group Up With People and is working on a proposal to compose new songs for that group. He also toured with Opera Pacific's Overture Company from 1987 to '91 in the title role of its children's operetta, "The Night Harry Stopped Smoking," and composed one of the tunes for that show, "The Pumper's Rap." He's looking into an arrangement with the company to perform his live concert at area grade schools under Opera Pacific's auspices.
Watching Rule on stage at the December opening of Bower's Kidseum, it was clear that his experience as a teacher, father and performer has served him well. His manner is natural and friendly, funny enough to be engaging to children but never excessively smarmy or silly. Backed by recorded instrumentals and accompanying himself on guitar, he delivered his upbeat songs with a genuine warmth and humor, his ballads and lullabies with tenderness.
Rule is also cool. His audience participation "Three Little Pigs Rap" ("Three Little Pigs were living large at home/ 'Til the day Mom said, 'Yo! I want to be alone! Go build your own houses now that you are big./ It's time for each of you to be an independent pig.' ") is delivered in fine bad-boy style.
Rule and his wife, Jody, also a kindergarten teacher, have three children. He says that while his domestic life is challenging, the demands of fatherhood and daily interaction with his children are often sources of musical inspiration.
"The first song I wrote, 'Roots and Wings,' came from a comment I heard just before (oldest son) Casey was born," recalled Rule. "Jody and I were at a conference, and somebody was talking about the fact that the two most important things we can give to our children are roots to grow from and wings to fly with. The thought just stuck in my head and blossomed into a song."
Rule's "An Egg Is an Egg" is based on Nicki Weiss' children's book of the same title. It addresses the idea that although children and parents undergo changes with age, they can always rely on the constancy of familial love. Casey recorded the song with his father at the age of 4 and occasionally performs it with him in concert.
"I may be a cheap cry, but the first time Casey and I sang that song in front of people was one of the highlights of my life," Rule said. "When we got to the part about 'This baby was a baby until he grew, and now he is a boy,' I just lost it.
"I love to be funny and make people laugh. But I also like moving to the other extreme, to show that it's OK for a family to show genuine emotion and feeling."
* Who: Jim Rule in concert.
* When: Saturday, March 11, at 11 a.m.
* Where: Borders Books and Music, 25222 El Paseo, Mission Viejo.
* Whereabouts: From the San Diego (5) Freeway, exit at Oso Parkway and drive west. Turn right on Cabot, then right on El Paseo.
* Wherewithal: FREE.
* Where to call: (714) 367-0005.
MORE KID STUFF
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Broadway on Tour, recently named as the Grove Theater Center's resident children's company, takes its final bows at The City mall, 20 City Drive, with concurrent runs of "Annie" and "Little Red Riding Hood," Saturdays and Sundays through April 2. $5 to $8. (714) 385-1555.
IN YORBA LINDA: 'THE VELVETEEN RABBIT'
Director Terri Miller Schmidt leads a cast of school-age dancers and actors in a musical adaptation of this children's classic, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through March 19 at the Dance, etc. Creative Arts Center, 3900-A Prospect Ave. $3 to $5. (714) 528-8263.
IN COSTA MESA: IT'S ALL IN THE WRIST
A 35-year veteran of puppetry, award-winning entertainer Jim Gamble brings his "Wonderful World of Puppets" show to Orange Coast College's Robert B. Moore Theatre, 2701 Fairview Road, Sunday, March 12, at 2:30 p.m. $7 to $13. (714) 432-5880.